What Leaders Must Do to Retain Millennials

What Leaders Must Do to Retain Millennials

John Eades 23/01/2019 5

I’ve seen it more times than I can count; a talented millennial who has potential in spades, walking out on a perfectly good job, looking for greener pastures in other organizations. The company lets them loose in spite of their aptitude for success and misses out on someone who could help bring new life and energy into the business. The statistics are pretty well documented. Millennials now make up the highest percentage of the work force and 66% of them expect to be in different jobs within 4 years of starting employment. The current turnover average in America is nearly 14% and it costs a company a year’s salary to replace a lower level employee, and 2 years salary to replace a senior employee.

The question is, who is to blame for these costly turnover rates? Some would argue it’s the entitled millennial (made famous by Talia's viral article about Yelp); others task organizations with failing to stay ahead of the times in order to engage their young professionals. Or should we all just live with the fact that turnover is going to be higher from this point forward?

I come from the camp that believes both millennials and organizations are at fault. Settling for a generation of job hoppers isn’t something we should be willing to do. While I can write for days about what young professionals should do to help solve this problem, I want to focus on organizations and the people who can control the turnover problem…their leaders.

People leave their manager; they don’t leave their company.

John Stumpt

There is a theory that relates to human behavior known as the 10%-80%-10% principle. It’s simple; 10 percent of workforces are elite performers who give it all they have, all the time. 80 percent of employees are the nucleus; great workers who don’t quite have the drive or determination to be an elite performer by themselves. And finally, the bottom 10%; a group that is uninterested or defiant, and they won’t have the drive regardless of what happens to them.

Every generation is made up of elite talent, core performers and those on the other end of the spectrum that just don’t get it. Perhaps this millennial generation tilts more towards 7%-83%-10%, but either way, they have plenty of elite performers that will help organizations navigate this quickly-changing business market.

It’s a leader’s job to bring more millennials (or the 83%) into the world of elite performers. Because when you do that this generation will stay loyal and stay at their current company. The organizations that do this will win, and they will win for a long time. Here are 3 ideas for you to try:


When I say train, I don’t mean equip them with company, product, or basic onboarding knowledge. That is table stakes. Invest in them outside the normal company curriculum; such as online learning courses, leadership development, corporate conferences, local in person workshops, keynote speakers, etc. This is probably is the easiest thing to do because most millennials are eager to improve their skills and can probably tell you where they would like help or development.


Take your micromanaging shoes off and put on a pair of empowerment shoes. Provide opportunities regardless of how big or small; to be involved in decisions, projects, brainstorming sessions, etc. This millennial generation is capable of a lot and by empowering them you will get less entitlement and more proactive work.

Make them Compete

Good old fashion competition brings out the best in young professionals. Find ways to pit millennials against each other and offer money, time off, gift cards, or other items going to the winner. It could be as simple as a one day contest or as complicated as year long contest, but the point is to get them competing. Not only will they respond, they will love it and look forward to the next challenge.

My hope is that more leaders in organizations will take ownership of their millennial turnover problem. Why, you ask? Because talent and new innovative ideas is going to carry businesses forward. I believe this Millennial generation has the talent, they just need their leaders to help bring it out of them and get them into that top 10%.

John Eades is the President and CEO of LearnLoft. He is passionate about the development of people. He writes and speaks about leadership, modern learning techniques, and generational differences in organizations.

Getting Leadership Ready: LearnLoft's out of the box training approach to helping young professionals understand what leadership is all about and helping them get noticed as a potential company leader. Find out more here.

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  • Denis Fahey

    Millennials already want to work for you, but employers won't hire them in permanent positions. No-one is trying to cater for the millennial workforce, because who cares what the interns/waitstaff/cleaners/contractors want? We don't want to be told we're special and given a pat on the head or a participation medal, we just want job security and a living wage, like every generation before us.

  • Shane Boylan

    The ones I work with are thoughtful, curious, and willing to work hard.

  • Tom Murdoch

    If a millennial has a sense of entitlement and continues to live off mom and dad, perhaps you should think about who is actually to blame for that.

  • Oliver Jones

    This is very interesting, and very true.

  • Sara Burney

    I'm so happy I'm from the previous generation.

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John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

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